If his hands are not the issue, then another part of Sonny Gray’s anatomy requires inspection and correction.
Because after tinkering with his delivery by holding his hands higher, in making what were called “minor adjustments” by Yankees manager Aaron Boone, the 28-year-old remains in search of a solution to his ongoing issues after his fourth-inning implosion on the Stadium mound Friday night against the Blue Jays.
“I don’t know,” Gray said after leaving to thunderous boos from the chilled crowd after yielding five runs on five hits, walking four and throwing a pair of wild pitches in 3 ¹/₃ innings while surrendering leads of 2-0 and 4-2 in the Yankees’ 8-5 defeat. “I wish I knew. It kind of got away from me.”
Of Gray’s 73 pitches, just 39 were strikes, with many of those lacking bite, at 90 and 91 mph on his fastball, while drifting over the heart of the plate.
“I feel fine. At 40 degrees, I don’t think anybody’s throwing as hard as they will over the summer,” he said. “I tried to build on the work I did during the week, but it kind of fell apart in the middle innings.”
This wasn’t the first time for that. The right-hander’s last outing, April 12 at Fenway Park, lasted only three innings, during which he allowed six runs on seven hits. Though his record is 1-1 following this no-decision, his ERA has swelled to 8.27. Gray has made 15 starts as a Yankee since his 2017 deadline acquisition from the Athletics and has won five with a 4.63 ERA.
Now, through this moderate sample size in pinstripes, the question becomes whether Gray, who is earning $6.5 million and is arbitration-eligible next season, might actually be dealt at this year’s deadline in a package for — wait for it — a starting pitcher who might be able to be a top-end guy in the playoff rotation. Someone like Detroit’s Michael Fulmer.
Someone who might give the Yankees what they expected from Gray.
The fact is, the Yankees haven’t acquired a starting pitcher in a midseason trade who then won a postseason game for them since David Cone defeated the Mariners in the first game of the 1995 ALDS.
True enough, it is not as if the list is expansive, even though it does include the likes of Denny Neagle and Jeff Weaver. But it also includes Gray, the once shiny object for whom the Yankees yielded prospects James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler, who did not win either of his two 2017 playoff starts despite a reasonably effective outing against the Astros in Game 4 of the ALCS.
“We have to circle the wagons and help him through this,” said Boone, whose team had a generally miserable time of it in falling to 9-9. “He’s really important to us.
“We’ve seen it from him in spurts, but he got behind too many times and it snowballed on him. We have to be part of the solution with him.”
Gray got through the first two innings well enough despite issuing two walks and throwing a wild pitch in the second. But he allowed another walk before surrendering a two-run homer to Teoscar Hernandez in the third to erase a 2-0 lead. He unraveled in the fourth after Giancarlo Stanton’s first home run in 51 at-bats staked him to a 4-2 lead.
Two doubles, a wild pitch, a pair of singles and another walk led to his demise, forcing Boone to go to the bullpen for 16 outs. This is not the way it was drawn up for the Yankees, who have yet to flaunt their expected strengths. The starting rotation has pitched to a 4.94 ERA while throwing the fifth fewest innings in the AL.
“I believe we have the answers in that room to get it done,” Boone said of the staff. “But yeah, if we’re going to be an elite-level team, we have to pitch well.”
Boone chose to have Gray throw to Gary Sanchez even though his numbers are far better with Austin Romine behind the plate, explaining that he doesn’t believe in “personal catchers.” Sanchez’s night was in lockstep with his pitcher as he went 0-for-4 with three Ks and his third passed ball in four games.
The manager talked about the Yankees “trying to get our own house in order” in the context of Boston’s 17-2 break out of the gate. The manager, and the team, is counting on Gray doing the same.
“Sonny needs to simplify things and trust his stuff,” Boone said before the game. “Trying to be perfect gets him into trouble. If he trusts his stuff, he can be at an elite level.”
Hands up if you think that might be hoping for a bit much.
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